One evening several years ago, I attended my first PTO meeting at an elementary school. The principal was sharing the most recent statistics for District 97. For the first time, I heard student success-and failure-described entirely within the rubric of two categories of race: white and black, with “black” really meaning anyone not entirely “white.”

Your recent article continues this pattern of relying on race as the gateway for describing what’s happening at our schools. [Poor grades, bad behavior linked in D97, News, Nov. 19] Worse, we’ve been socialized to view the “successful student” from the perspective of grades and behavior.

Structuring the public reporting of school data in a race context is just not useful. It perpetuates stereotypes, and negates circumstance. How impossible is it to take data on our schools and not interpret it through the lens of race? Is there something to say about feeder schools, patterns in the subjects students are doing poorly in, seniority of teachers’ tenure in those classes and/or their training, out-of-classroom engagement, overlaps in data on gender distribution, free/reduced lunch programs, and single parent households? These data might actually be interesting and actionable.

Treating middle school students with equity means recognizing all the power struggles they implicitly or explicitly deal with every day: with their parents, teachers, siblings, neighborhood, the entire gender and identity challenges, peer pressure, self-image, and friendship. This is the key time we have to build the intentional learner.

It’s just too easy to look at the most glaring statistical pattern (race) and conclude why something is happening. It’s lazy research. The stark division of student success in Dist. 97 into black and white is a weak construct, incomplete, without nuance, and unabashedly unfair to every student. It offers little in the way of understanding what’s happening. And it does not honor the commitment to human equity both Percy Julian and Gwendolyn Brooks stood for.

Chris Deegan

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